EUGENE — Former Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Doug Brenner recalled in vivid detail three days of football strength and conditioning workouts that he says “completely altered the course” of his life, robbed him of a possible NFL career and caused long-term damage to his kidneys as a result of rhabdomyolysis.
Over three hours of direct examination by Jason Kafoury, one of his attorneys from Kafoury & McDougal and Eiva Law, Brenner explained in Lane County Circuit Court on Monday how the events of Jan. 10-12, 2017, and his subsequent hospitalization, impacted his senior season at UO, derailed his opportunity for a professional football career and have had lasting impact on his health.
“It feels awful because it’s not fair,” Brenner said. “I didn’t choose to have rhabdo. I didn’t want to have rhabdo. I didn’t want to have these terrible injuries that set me back. I had done everything right. I was trying my best and working hard and it hurt me for it. …
“I was heading one way with plans and expectations for myself and was doing great. Looking ahead and knew I had a chance at the next level and then this took me in a different direction, hurt me, hurt multiple parts of my body. …. I got to live with it.”
Brenner is suing the University of Oregon, former football coach Willie Taggart and former strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde for negligence and the NCAA for punitive damages. He’s seeking a total of $125.5 million in the case.
Brenner grew emotional at times as he revisited the workouts at the center of the case — which the lawyers for UO, Taggart and Oderinde have stated were “excessive” and they “own” up to.
He said Ducks players had “no idea” the kind of workout they would face the first day. Taggart and Oderinde, Brenner said, had maintained they would only begin with a brief warm-up of pushups, sit-ups, up-downs and planks. But, in actuality, the workout included those exercises exclusively for more than an hour, though the precise volume remains in dispute.
“They made it very clear to us very quickly that no matter what, no matter how hard we tried, they weren’t going to let us move on (from the exercises),” Brenner said. “… They made it clear that quitting would be negative on you and they were trying to see who would last.”
Blistered hands, palms that were raw, knees that had been scraped bare of hair from the volume of hundreds of repetitions were some of the effects Brenner described he and other players having after the first day.
Brenner said there were trash cans set out in case players needed to vomit. Whether there was water available for players in the 6 am group — which Brenner participated in — on the first day remains in dispute. But he said he didn’t see it and that players would have been reprimanded for stopping to drink anyway, just as he says they had been if they stopped to throw up in those trash cans.
Stephen English, one of UO’s lawyers from Perkins Coie, objected to a question that evoked that last response from Brenner, but was overruled by Judge Clara Rigmaiden.
“I was the sorest I have ever been in my life,” Brenner said. “Until the next day.”
On Jan. 11, 2017, Brenner said he arrived at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex early in order to visit with athletic trainer Travis Halseth, who tested last week that he advised the then-fifth-year senior to modify his level of participation and intensity on the second day of workouts.
“I remember it being a conversation of, ‘Do you think you can go today?’” Brenner said. “And me just letting him know that, ‘Yeah, I have to go today. I felt like I needed to go prove myself to the coaches. … I need to do it. I need to see what I can do.’”
Brenner said the same exercises were repeated in even higher volume than the first day, and that Oderinde ended the sessions with a set of 50 up-downs.
“I remember thinking, is this set of up-downs ever going to stop and am I going to pass out,” Brenner said. “Am I gonna — is something really bad going to happen?”
Brenner recalled Mark Dillon, another UO’s strength and conditioning coach, pulling him aside late during the workouts on the second day because he looked close to passing out. He was the last offensive lineman standing.
“I was a leader,” Brenner said, explaining why he didn’t quit the workout. “I’m a hard worker. I knew younger guys were looking up to me, the things that Coach Taggart said to us in the first meetings, the things that strength coaches were saying to us during these workouts.”
On the third day of workouts on Jan. 12, Brenner was held out of most activities, but said he still performed a series of sit-ups in the morning. Afterward, he received a call from then-UO director of athletic medicine Dr. Greg Skaggs, who told Brenner his creatine kinase (CK) level had skyrocketed over 70,000 and he needed to go to the emergency room.
Brenner was treated at PeaceHealth Medical Center, but released due to what multiple witnesses have tested was a lack of available beds.
He was admitted two days later, along with then-offensive lineman Sam Poutasi and tight end Cam McCormick. Poutasi filed a similar lawsuit and recently settled. McCormick is still at UO.
Brenner said a photo of him, Poutasi and McCormick smiling in the hospital, which UO’s lawyers showed in their opening statement, was because the players were celebrating being able to walk and see each other for the first time since being admitted.
Taggart never visited the players in the hospital, but told NBCSportsNorthwest at the time that players “are ticked off because they were enjoying the workouts. Even the guys that were in the hospital.”
Brenner shared details of a conversation he had with Mario Cristobal, then UO’s offensive line coach who hadn’t joined the staff yet at the time of the workouts, after he returned to the team following the incident.
“He pulled me aside and he let me know that he was really sorry that this happened to me and these workouts sounded dumb and dangerous and he was sorry and that he was there for me,” Brenner said. “And he was mad that it happened, and that I could reach out to him … if I ever needed to.”
Brenner’s recounting of the conversation with Cristobal, who went on to replace Taggart as head coach and is now at Miami, was twice interrupted by objections from English. But since Cristobal was a UO employee, the objections were overruled. Cristobal is not a witness in the case.
Another series of objections from English came when Kafoury asked Brenner how he believed rhabdomyolysis affected his body and contributed to his subsequent hip injuries, which led to season-ending surgeries in November and December 2017, and mostly nixed his preparation for Oregon’s pro day.
“It completely hurt me,” Brenner said. “It sets me back. It made my whole body weaker, but especially in O-line when you need to push people with your legs and you aren’t allowed to squat heavy all winter and you go against guys that were squatting heavy all winter, it hurt.”
Multiple former teammates of Brenner — including 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, Tyrell Crosby, Henry Mondeaux — and former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, tested last week that they believe Brenner had the skills, talent and traits to earn an opportunity to play in the NFL.
Dr. Donald Nortman, a Harvard-educated nephrologist with more than 40 years of experience who is now affiliated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center, tested earlier in the case that Brenner “probably lost 40% of his kidney function” compared to before the workouts.
Brenner’s treating nephrologist, Dr. Raymond Petrillo of the Northwest Renal Clinic and Legacy Health, tested that Brenner’s lifespan has been reduced “probably by about 10 to 15 years.”
Based on Petrillo’s diagnosis and input, John Fountaine, a certified rehabilitation counselor and a certified case manager from OSC Vocational Systems, tested that Brenner’s future medical expenses could range from $800,000 to more than $1.5 million depending on his lifespan.
“It’s really tough to hear that you have permanent damage to your kidneys and that it’s something you’re going to have to have for the rest of your life,” Brenner said. “It’s tough to think — it’s sad to think about having the potential loss of life, a shorter life. I think about it all the time. It weighs over me.”
Cross-examination of Brenner begins Tuesday morning. Then the lawyers for UO, Taggart and Oderinde will begin calling their witnesses, who are expected to include Taggart, UO associate director of athletic medicine Kevin Steil and former Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.